Out of a blinding blizzard, a young girl trudges, seeking her way home in the heart of winter.
This harsh but hauntingly beautiful snowscape forms the backdrop to a young Oshin's trials and travails.
For those who grew up in the 1980s, the story of Oshin is all too familiar: An indomitable young girl, who was a house servant, overcomes great odds to become a successful entrepreneur. It's all the more poignant because it is based on a true story.
While the wildly popular drama series, which was first broadcast in 1983, told her life story from 1900 to the early 1980s in 297 episodes, the 109-minute film remake focuses on her childhood.
Born into a poor rural family in the Meiji period (1868-1912), a seven-year-old Oshin (Kokone Hamada) is pressed into one year of servitude over a mere bag of rice.
Bullied and accused of stealing, she runs away and almost dies from the cold.
But an army deserter, Shunsaku (Shinnosuke Mitsushima), takes her in and even teaches her to read and write. However, this happy respite ends when she has to return to her village after the law catches up with him.
Determined to help her family, she leaves home again soon after to work for another family in the city. Fortunately, the matriarch (veteran actress Pinko Izumi, who played Oshin's mother in the TV series) of this family admires Oshin's fighting spirit and takes her under her wing.
But this doesn't spell the end of the girl's troubles as the matriarch's granddaughter, a spoilt girl her age, resents the attention Oshin gets from her grandmother.
Through it all, a spunky Oshin leavens the bleakness with her zest for life and ability to appreciate the simplest things, demonstrated in a scene in which she wolfs down a bowl of white rice and wheat like a rare delicacy.
I admit, I cried, and more than once.
The story of a young child who faces adversity with sheer guts is a certified tear-jerker in any day or age, but setting aside fond memories of the original series, this remake stands out with its poetic shots of a snow-laden Japan and a talented nine-year-old star.
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